Design guru Glynn Kerr on the difficult times being faced by Motus Motorcycles of the United States of America
Unless you have a wealthy sponsor the size of, say, Polaris, starting a new motorcycle company in this day and age is no easy task. this is an industry which, like the mythical sirens, draws in devoted entrepreneurs only to dash them on the rocks of insolvency a few years down the line. ours can be a particularly cruel business to be in and nobody does it to get rich quickly. enthusiasm is usually the central motive, which doesn’t necessarily gel with fiscal prudence.
Motus is one company that deserved to succeed, because they did something different. not wacky, Confederate-style different, which might work if you sell in single digits, but mainstream different in a country where most customers are conservative patriots who only buy v-twins and from brands that were around before the Declaration of Independence. sure, the v4 layout had already appeared on honda’s st1100 and 1300 models, but the inclined block was unique and chain drive kept things sporty, even if it meant turning the crank rotation through 90 degrees for the final drive. with 165 Ps (Mst) or 180 Ps (Mst R) on tap, power was more than sufficient to turn that extra cog, although at 230 kg dry, the Motus was no lightweight. the design was understated, if rather bland, with the aim of attracting the more mature, serious rider.
It is a huge undertaking for a start-up to produce its own engine and theirs is no two-stroke single. technical expertise was called in from Pratt & Miller engineering, racing partner to no less than General Motors, the pushrod v4 “Baby Block” layout being based heavily on a shortened Corvette ls unit. Prices weren’t cheap, with Motus quoting MsRP at $30,965 (Rs 22 lakh) for the Mst and $36,975 (Rs 26 lakh) for the Mst R, although that included plenty of high-end components.
the use of the past tense in those last two paragraphs is because, at the time of writing, production in Birmingham, alabama, has been halted. on 31 august, founders lee Conn and Brian Case posted the following on the company Facebook page:
To all Motus customers, dealers, staff, suppliers, friends, After an amazing ten year ride, Motus is forced to shut down aperations, effective immediately.
This week, Motus’ financial backers unexpectedly informed management that they would not provide sufficient capital to
maintain operations and grow the business. We were surprised and disappointed, especially because we have been working so hard preparing an October 2018 product launch into a new and exciting segment as well as new features on the MST series. This is very unfortunate timing and we will work to quickly find a new path forward for Motus Motorcycles and our American V4 powertrain division.
this news has come as a surprise to owners and industry followers alike, as the company was building a small but loyal following and had further models in the pipeline. the “new product” referred to in the announcement is believed to be a streetfighter version, which would have opened the company to new markets and generated a more aggressive image.
the existing fully faired models have been criticized for lacking personality, in particular a weak and anonymous “face”. as such, it became one of the contenders for a Photoshop reworking in the second part of my article, “nips and tucks” (Bike India, august 2016). not that this was intended as a complete redesign — that would have looked very different — but more an update in the original spirit. My time was limited to a few hours, too, not the months or years it took to come up with the original. the bodywork was tightened up a little, the face and stance made more assertive, and the exhaust given more flow. nothing revolutionary, but it sharpened up the look a tad and brought the design forward a few years in the process.
Right now, the management is focused on finding new investors and hope is not lost entirely that production could resume. Doing so is easier said than done, though, as Case notes ‘... to all our loyal friends, family, dealers, suppliers, who, out of nothing but kindness, say “call leno” or “insert famous celebrity”, it doesn’t work like that. no celebrity is going to “save” a little brand like us. this isn’t a movie or even reality tv. we don’t get a handout or government grants. we have to save ourselves or die trying. we owe it not just to ourselves, but to everyone who took a chance on us and has stuck by us through a very difficult time.’
Maybe, expansion outside the motorcycle market could help attract new investors. the Motus engine was also available as a crate unit for custom builds and other applications. one has already found its way on to a speedboat as an outboard motor, so there may be possibilities in other fields. either way, I join the many Motus fans who have expressed support for the company and hope they find a way to stay in business. a lot of pluck has gone into getting where they are, not to mention time, investment, and sheer hard work. to keep the american motorcycle industry alive for future generations, it shouldn’t consist solely of nostalgia orientated v-twins.
I join the many Motus fans who have expressed support for the company and hope they find a way to stay in business
Design doodle for the coming Motus streetfighter Stock Motus MST Stock Motus MST
Above: A few naked Motus examples have been posted as teasers for the streetfighterAbove Left: Motus MST given the Glynn Kerr treatment